As COVID-19 fears continue to cripple the travel and tourism industries, wealthy Northeastern Americans are opting for a safer type of vacation: A "daycation."
But instead of a hopping into the family sedan for a regular daytrip to the nearest hiking trail, these ritzy day-long jaunts include food, service, and tailored experiences of the highest quality.
Some of the lavish itineraries offer a private jet that greets you on the tarmac to fly straight to a resort and spa. A fleet of BMWs await your arrival and can be used all day to explore. Hotel grounds are alight with fall colors, and a four-star meal is served facing the scenic landscape.
The deluxe new trend is also a bright spot of hope for vendors working in the travel industry, who have seen dramatic losses throughout the last year due to the coronavirus.
"I think a 'daycation' is a great compromise for people who are looking to get out of their spaces, that they've been locked up in without having to feel anxious about some of the exposure they have in a more public place, like an airport, airplane or hotel," said Ezon. "You have a full day experience that you really feel like you went on a vacation."
Executive travel goes social distance
In August, the United Nations estimated that the tourism industry would suffer a $1 trillion hit as a result of the pandemic, while also jeopardizing over 100 million jobs globally, the body stated in a policy brief. International tourists decreased from 56 percent in the first two months of the year, only to plummet to 98 percent at the height of the health crisis in May.
But luxury travel agencies booking local excursions and daytime hotel bookers have all seen a boom in reservations throughout the summer and fall months.
Embark Beyond, one such agency, recently launched a new "Daycations" package which includes private plane rides from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey to opulent hotels and resorts. On the list of destinations are the Blantyre and Miraval resorts in The Berkshire Mountains of western Massachussetts, River House at Odette's in New Hope, Pennsylvania and the Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Virginia where guests indulge in a day of Michelin-starred food, spa treatments, hikes and BMW joyrides.
The extravagant outing ranges in price from $4,850 to $6,150 for two people, but the company has already booked over a dozen 'daycations' since they launched the program Oct. 16, said Embark Beyond's co-founder Jack Ezon. So far, the most expensive trip to Charlottesville cost an impressive $17,100 for four couples, or about $2,138 per person.
The group of "daycationers" are flown via private Tradewind jet to Charlottesville, and given a private car to explore Monticello, the former home of Thomas Jefferson. Lunch is served at Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards followed by an eight course tasting dinner menu prepared by the Michelin starred restaurant at the Inn at Little Washington. The entire 'daycation' cost $11,850 for two people and $1,750 for each additional couple.
The most popular Embark Beyond 'daycation' since the program launched is a trip to the Blantyre luxury resort in the Berkshires.
For $6,150 two people are flown on a private jet to Pittsfield private air terminal and greeted by up to seven BMWs depending on group size. Guests are then encouraged to explore the 110-acre Gilded Age Estates in Lenox, Massachusetts, and then given a picnic made by Daniel Boulud's Cafe Boulud to "tailgate" out of the BMW.
Ezon believes the trend is spiking because "daycations" offer the perks and fun of a vacation, without the added fear of contracting coronavirus by traveling via plane with the public, or sleeping overnight in hotels.
"It's about getting people comfortable with the world today and getting out of your space," said Ezon.
According to experts who previously spoke with Business Insider, activites like flying and staying in a hotel can pose a high risk of contracting the virus if guildines like social distancing and keeping groups small are not observed.
"'Safe' implies something absolute. Instead, it's all about risk reduction," William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, previously told Business Insider.
A hotel, but not for tonight
Meanwhile, the online day-time hotel booking service, DayBreakHotels, saw a surge of 30 to 50 percent in reservations throughout the US in the summer and fall months compared to the first two months of 2020, the platform told Business Insider.
People are utilizing hotel day-only rates to enjoy the hotel amenities like a pool, bar, spa and room service, while only paying a fraction of the regular overnight stay price. For example, a day-rate for a Friday night at the InterContinental New York Barclay costs only $125, but to stay the full night it would run you $378.
Among the most popular day-only hotel rooms booked so far in the US are Hudson Hotel New York, InterContinental New York Barclay, and H Hotel Los Angeles, Curio Collection by Hilton, which are all four-stars or higher.
"We've seen lots of people, both pre-COVID and at present, booking our 'daycations,' as this is a way to enjoy a luxury break without the financial commitment, organization, and travel risk associated with booking a traditional holiday," said DayBreakHotels CEO and founder Simon Botto. "As soon as lockdown eased and hotels started to reopen, our business and bookings rebounded quickly."
Wealthy city dwellers are also using the daytime hotel option as a way to escape their houses and apartments while working from home, and reaping the added benefits.
"We have started offering 'smart working' packages in some markets, so remote workers can work from hotel rooms and enjoy a safe, local, flexible and affordable office space whilst their traditional office is closed," said Botto.
A Business Insider reporter even recently tried out the Work From Hilton trend herself at a 5-star resort in Arizona. She was able to work remitely from their patio or hotel banquet room tricked out with office supplies, and enjoyed poolside cocktails on the weekend.
Eating out with style
Experts agree that grabbing a bite to eat outdoors is one of the safest activites people can do during the pandemic.
So well-to-do New Yorkers and Hamptons dwellers are turning to luxury picnic companies to help elevate their regular park spreads to another level.
Wendy Weston, who is the founder of Perfect Picnic, saw a major spike in picnic experience sales throughout the summer, and she has already exceeded her total and net profits from last year. She was expecting to lose money from the lack of group catering opportunities that she largely depended on, but the demand for luxury picnics has been higher than ever.
For wealthy city dwellers looking to stay local, Perfect Picnic's experience selection offers the chance to hit Central Park or The Hamptons for more than just a walk. Clients can choose from luxury offerings like a fresh seafood feast from Citarella that is decorated, set up and outfitted before arrival in a scenic area.
"This season people are going a little bit higher end because I think people are really looking to do something special," she told Business Insider. "You weren't spending money on getting your nails done or getting your hair done on other things that would normally be like a luxury pampering thing for yourself. So I found that we definitely noticed that the higher end picnics ... was definitely big."
Weston's picnic experiences range in price from $375 for the Gold Picnic — which includes a charcuterie board and setup waiting at a park — to $8,300 for a Hamptons helicopter ride to a picnic on a beach.
But her most popular picnic this year was her deluxe $1,500 picnic, which features a more formal, low-rise table, flowers and food.
"I think in this time, people really, really miss their favorite New York city restaurant and the whole dining experience," said Weston. "So we are able to elevate that for them and really make it special."